Ross Bhappu is a Senior Partner of Resource Capital Funds and a specialist in metallurgical engineering and mineral economics. Ross spent time initially working on the operations side of mining before deciding that it was M&A activity in the mining sector that he was particularly passionate about.
I grew up in a little town in New Mexico and my exposure to the mining industry came from my father who was a college professor in metallurgical engineering. I think for most Americans, you rarely hear about mining in school as it’s only a small part of the U.S. economy, but I really enjoyed what my father did from the massive trucks and the shovels to the chemistry.
I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and studied metallurgical engineering in college at the University of Arizona. At the time I graduated, the job market was very weak so I decided to complete a master’s degree in metallurgy. While in school, I worked for a copper mining company based in Tucson, Arizona where I met my wife. Early on in my career, I decided that I really loved the mining industry, but wanted to be more involved on the business side, so I went to the Colorado School of Mines where I completed a PhD in Mineral Economics.
Following university Ross went on to work for several resources companies in operations and business development capacities, including running a junior mining company which provided excellent groundwork for Ross’ career at RCF.
After graduating from the Colorado School of Mines, I worked for Cyprus Minerals Company for about seven years in various capacities. Initially, I was part of the Planning and Economics group which served as an interface between the operations and corporate office. It provided tremendous exposure to all aspects of the business. I then joined the Smelter Project team where I was involved in the analysis of various smelting technologies, the decision to use a new state-of-the-art technology developed in Australia and then the feasibility study team for a new copper smelter. I participated as a member of the construction team based in Miami, Arizona and after commissioning held various operating management roles before spending several years working at Newmont as a director of business development focusing on M&A activity globally.
I left Newmont after about seven years and was recruited to run a junior copper company with a development project in Arizona. This was a great learning experience, particularly when as we were completing the feasibility study, we discovered an endangered species on the property. We recognized that being a small company we wouldn’t have the capacity to mitigate the risks and implement a management plan so we decided to exit from the project.
It was around the same time that I had been talking to James McClements about RCF investing in our project when we ended up exiting. As luck and timing would have it, RCF was just finishing raising RCF II and James invited me to join the RCF team around the beginning of 2001. While my primary focus was always deal focused, James got me actively involved in fundraising and investor relations early on and it’s still a big part of my role today.
The resources industry is often associated with high risk yet Ross explains that for RCF, these risks are scrupulously managed. Extensive research and analysis is undertaken to establish a complete understanding of all aspects of a mining project before an investment decision is made.
Something my father stressed to me as a metallurgical engineer is that metallurgists make some of the best environmental engineers because you have a comprehensive understanding of geology and mineralogy. He explained that if you can understand how the mineral got there in the first place, then you can figure out how to recover it and manage any impurities to minimize any environmental impact. We have always been trained to not pollute and that you always have to be thinking about environmental aspects of a project so it is second nature when evaluating mining projects.
RCF not only provides financial support to our portfolio companies, but we also provide a source of valuable experience. I know from experience what it’s like to run a junior company, knowing that there were times that were very tough and money could be very tight. I think most of our portfolio companies really appreciate that RCF is able to bring that experience to the table.
Ross has been with RCF for almost 15 years now and has been involved in the mining sector for over 30 years. Over the course of that time he has seen several fluctuations or cycles in the market. Ross provides some insight into the current market environment and the additional consequences of a market downturn.
When I joined RCF I think there were only five or six people in the firm, it was a tough time in the market and commodity prices were depressed. Similarly to the market then, the current market is tough too. It’s particularly difficult for junior mining companies to raise money. The value of private equity is that we continue to invest in projects through good times and bad times with the recognition that this is a cyclical business and the market will improve – we have to be patient and supportive of our portfolio companies – an important characteristic that is valued by both our investors and portfolio companies.
One of the very difficult things that we see impacted by these downturns is the lack of support for education. When times are good mining companies support funding for mining related education, but when times are bad, this funding tends to dry up. RCF has continued to do its part to support education in mining by providing fellowships and financial support at a number of mining focused universities.
As with education, one of the first things that companies cut when times are tough is exploration which results in a shortage of good quality projects in the pipeline for future mines. RCF has recently funded an exploration strategy to help support companies with exciting new mineral discoveries which we hope will lead to a pipeline of new mines in the future.
RCF has several key goals for both the short and long term, including why they’re important for the future of the business. Ross also shares what his experience with RCF has meant personally.
We’ve built a great reputation in the industry as an organization that pioneered the concept of private equity investing in mining, and we’ve built a template that we can grow on. The key for us is to ensure that we maintain a strong reputation by being thorough in our due diligence, attentive to ESG issues, maintaining investment discipline and with the ultimate goal being to provide strong returns to our investors. RCF has invested in a very strong team to manage our business and it is incumbent on our senior staff to instill this discipline on the next generation of managers.
On a personal level I would say that I have been very fortunate to be part of RCF and the mining industry. Three years ago my family was inspired to set up our own small family foundation. Through this foundation, we support a number of causes including education for the next generation of mining professionals. Throughout my career, I have been very fortunate to travel extensively throughout the world and on many occasions take my family so we can all experience other cultures. Seeing other parts of the world certainly makes us appreciate the life we have.